An En­gag­ing His­tory of Mail-or­der Matches

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Mar­cia Zug, NYU Press Hard­cover $30 (320pp), 978-0-8147-7181-5

We know what you’re think­ing: mail-or­der marriages in­volve so­cially chal­lenged, dis­agree­able men and des­per­ate for­eign women. Well, you’re partly right. Even so, the four-hun­dred-year his­tory of bride buy­ing is com­pli­cated by the early years in Amer­i­can his­tory, when Jamestown Colony sought out “tobacco wives” and pi­o­neer brides rode stage­coaches and steam trains to the un­cer­tain plea­sures of a corn-husk bed. Th­ese coura­geous women were ad­mired at the time. But per­cep­tions grad­u­ally changed af­ter the Civil War as the ra­cial de­mo­graph­ics of the brides shifted to Asian and East­ern and South­ern Euro­pean women seek­ing to ma­neu­ver around Amer­ica’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies. So what’s a con­cerned by­stander to think? “De­spite sig­nif­i­cant risks, mail-or­der marriages are typ­i­cally ben­e­fi­cial and even lib­er­at­ing for women,” says Mar­cia Zug, ex­press­ing a sen­ti­ment she never thought she’d write. Eye-open­ing and en­ter­tain­ing, this project de­serves a large au­di­ence.

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